Maine DA Plans to Release File Details
Saturday, February 23, 2002
By GREGORY D. KESICH, Portland Press Herald Writer
Copyright © 2002 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson
said Friday she will release a written report detailing allegations
of abuse against former Roman Catholic priests in Maine, complete
with a statistical breakdown of complaints and descriptions of how
the church dealt with individual priests.
The decision on which allegations to prosecute will
be handled on a case-by-case basis, Anderson said as she provided
her first detailed account of her plans for any priest personnel
files she receives from the Portland Diocese. She said she will:
Prosecute if illegal conduct occurred within the statute
of limitations - since 1984. Such allegations will be turned over
to local police for investigation.
Notify people in danger if the allegations involve
someone who still has access to children. She will make those notifications
even if she cannot bring a formal charge.
Keep private the names of dead priests or ones so old and incapacitated
that, in her opinion, they do not pose a public safety threat.
Anderson's role as arbiter in the unfolding scandal
has been of interest since the Portland Diocese announced its plan
to turn information over to the district attorney within a month.
Anderson said she is prepared to be criticized both by those who
think she releases too much and those who think she releases too
"The whole thing can run amok pretty easily.
That's the reason the church turned it all over to me," Anderson
said. "Yes, it's an unusual role, but this is an unusual situation."
She is already beginning to hear criticism.
By promising to release information about cases she
has no plans to prosecute, Anderson goes beyond the commonly understood
role of a prosecutor, said University of Maine Law Professor Mel
"I think when she thinks about it, she will decide
not to do it," Zarr said. "It's an odd thing for a prosecutor
to make a public disclosure about someone she has no intention to
prosecute, without giving them any due process. It may be a role
for somebody, but it's an odd role for her."
Zarr said prosecutors review criminal cases with only
one question in mind: Is there enough evidence to convince a jury
of a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt?
If there is, the case goes to court. If there isn't, the case typically
"As a general rule, they don't comment on cases
they are not going to prosecute," Zarr said. "If they
decide no, then you never hear about it."
Anderson said that as an elected official she has
a duty to protect public safety that goes beyond her role as a prosecutor.
And the case of the priests is unique both because the Catholic
Church had a history of handling the allegations privately, and
the church asked her to review the records.
"My focus will be on the perspective of protecting
kids," Anderson said. "If I find out about some former
priest who molested a bunch of kids and is working for some school
district somewhere, I am not going to sit on that information. I
don't know exactly what I am going to do, but I am not going to
sit on it."
That may not be enough for some victims. Many who
say they were exploited by priests want the men to face public exposure,
even if they no longer pose a threat to children.
Phil Saviano, the New England coordinator for Survivors Network
of those Abused by Priests, said full disclosure of what happened
in the past is needed to help victims heal and to educate the public
to avoid future victimization.
"It's important for the parishes to have a full
understanding of what happened, whether the priest is dead or in
a nursing home or not," Saviano said.
"The experience of being sexually abused can
affect a child for many years after," he said. "It may
be helpful for a parent who had a 14-year-old kid whose grades suddenly
dropped off and developed an aversion to authority to find out that
one of these priests had been in their community. They might be
able to talk to their child, who's now in his 30s, about what may
have happened in his life."
Saviano, who is based in Boston, said every time a
priest is publicly identified, more victims come forward. "It's
very empowering for them; there is safety in numbers," he said.
Anderson said she will listen to victims' groups,
but she is not convinced that full public disclosure is the answer.
"I have not been persuaded," she said. "I
don't know what is to be gained, looking at it from a law-enforcement
point of view."
The announcement this week has already brought national
attention to the Maine prosecutor. This week a crew from the ABC
television program "Nightline" taped an interview with
her, which was shown in part Thursday night.
Staff Writer Gregory D. Kesich can be contacted